Updated: August 18, 2009 at 12:00 am
Before being ticketed Saturday for trespassing, Douglas Bruce had previously been warned he wasn't welcome to collect signatures for his ballot measures at Costco and knew that police were likely to be called - just as they had when he did the same thing last year.
Bruce and another man, Douglas Stinehagen, were cited by police last weekend for trespassing while collecting signatures either in the parking lot or in the entrance of the Costco store off Powers Boulevard after ignoring employees' and officers' requests to leave the store's property.
Bruce and Stinehagen were collecting signatures for a proposed ballot measure that would phase out fees for city enterprises, such as stormwater fees, and bar the city from receiving millions of dollars in payments in lieu of taxes from Colorado Springs Utilities.
Costco manager John Wynns said Tuesday Bruce was aware that the store bars all solicitors from its property, from Girl Scouts to political activists. He said Bruce knew that because Costco employees called police last year for exactly the same thing - collecting signatures for ballot measures outside the store.
Costco had a company attorney send Bruce a letter last year explaining its policy prohibiting political soliciting on its property, Wynns said.
“Usually I can just ask them (solicitors) to leave and they’ll leave,” Wynns said. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve only had to call police twice. Both times were on Mr. Bruce.”
Wynns said his patience ended when Bruce started bothering customers entering and leaving the store.
“He’s been here before, he knows the process,” Wynns said. “When he was standing in the middle of my exit door impeding members from leaving, that’s when he crossed the line.”
Bruce denied stopping customers from leaving the store, but said he had a “dim recollection” of cops being called on him at Costco last year.
Police officers were enforcing a revised city policy regarding where activists can collect signatures on private property that Bruce knew had been changed this month and which he says is illegal and singles him out.
Before the policy was changed Feb. 16, petitioners could collect signatures on private property as long as they didn't harass anyone and the property is accessible to the public, such as shopping centers and malls.
The new directive to police, based on research by Senior City Attorney Will Bain after the city was contacted by lawyers representing business owners, states the property owner's permission is required except at the city's two malls.
The business owner has to sign a complaint for trespassing, and the petitioners have to refuse an order to leave before they can be ticketed.
Bruce said he received a copy of the new policy about two weeks ago.
“That doesn’t mean I was trying to get arrested,” he said. “That means I wasn’t going to let the B.S. policy deter me from my right to petition.”
Joshua Dunn, a political science professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs said there are a few exceptions in Colorado law where people are allowed to petition on private property. Costco, he said, wouldn’t be an exception.
“Costco is fully within its rights to have him removed,” Dunn said. “There’s a good reason for the law. Costco wants to sell products, they don’t want to turn their establishments into an electioneering site.”